Shaft headgear of
Anglo American
Platinum’s Khomanani
Marikana, South Africa — 21 September 2012 – Thousands reported for work at Lonmin’s Marikana mine yesterday, ending a six-week strike in which 46 people died, but at rival Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) miners barricaded a street with burning tyres, and the company said it had been badly hit by a walkout to demand higher pay.

Reuters reports that a police helicopter hovered above a shanty town near Amplats mines at Rustenburg, 100km north-west of Johannesburg, and armed officers backed by armoured vehicles and water cannon were on stand-by.

There were no reports of clashes but Amplats, the world’s top producer of the precious metal, reported only one in five of its workers had turned up at its Rustenberg mines. It was clear that the wave of wildcat strikes in the sector had not ended with the signing this week of a pay deal at smaller platinum producer Lonmin.

The unrest, with roots in a bloody turf war between an upstart union and the dominant National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), has sent world platinum prices soaring.

The police shooting of 34 Lonmin strikers on 16 August 16 “’ the bloodiest security incident since the end of apartheid in 1994 “’ also piled pressure on President Jacob Zuma, who was forced to call in the army to back up stretched police.

And economists say the precedent set by the big Lonmin pay rises could ripple through an economy already saddled with uncompetitive labour costs, stoking inflation and curbing the central bank’s ability to cut interest rates to boost sputtering growth.

“The company continues to be disappointed with the low turnout rate at four of its Rustenburg mines which are currently reporting less than 20% attendance," Amplats said in a statement. It added that its Rustenburg process operations had resumed full production, but the mood among strikers was uncompromising.

Police fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse a crowd of men carrying spears and machetes in a squatter camp near the site on Wednesday.

A few km away at Lonmin’s Marikana mine, thousands of workers reported for their first shift since early August, ending one of the bloodiest bouts of industrial action in the 18 years since the end of white-minority rule.

The hefty wage settlement has stirred up trouble in the gold sector, with some 15,000 miners at the KDC West operation of Gold Fields, the world’s fourth largest bullion producer, holding an illegal strike.

The Gold Fields protest is fuelled by discontent with the local leadership of the dominant National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), and their stance has been given fresh impetus by the Lonmin settlement. Gold Fields said this week it would not entertain demands for a minimum wage of R12,500, despite losing 1,400 ounces a day “’ close to 15%of group production.

Source: Reuters Africa. For more information, click here.